Onward, Online - Today!!
The law profession tends to attract smart women to its practice; after all, this is an occupation that requires mental clarity and superior cognitive abilities. Yet, as a marketing professional, I have noticed one glaring blind spot in the otherwise perceptive natures of many attorneys: a persistent skepticism regarding value of online marketing, or indeed whether there is value in maintaining an online presence at all.
At a meeting with two partners from a boutique law firm, the old resistance reared its head once the conversation turned to a discussion of how search engine marketing (SEM) – a general term that pertains to optimizing a website and other online vehicles for improved rankings on search engines – could help the firm attract more opportunities and expand its client base. Their attitude was that if there was a need, prospects would not go online to search for a lawyer or attorneys in their practice area; rather, their practice is predicated entirely upon referrals. Yet during a follow-up conversation with one of the partners, he remarked that the firm had been contacted by a particularly exciting prospect who had discovered them via an online search. This completely unsolicited, yet highly sought after lead was the result of an online search and it came in despite the firm’s outdated website; however, the firm has made no additional investment in time or money to increase the potential from the arena of the web.
I find this kind of resistance difficult to understand. Why do so many intelligent attorneys think it beyond the realm of possibility that a qualified prospect would search for a lawyer online and, finding a website that appears legitimate and informative, call that firm? Millions of people conduct online searches every day, many of them highly qualified individuals from the corporate world. Attorneys relying solely on “real world” referrals are missing out on the myriad possibilities that SEM can help engender. In short, a well designed website with comprehensive information on the firm and its attorneys is an absolute necessity if you want your name to be in the ring next time someone sits down in front of Google to find an attorney in your practice area.
Taking advantage of the online realm is particularly vital for smaller boutique firms who may not have the resources to compete with larger, more established firms using conventional methods. Sure, you offer the same caliber of work as “the big guys” at more affordable rates – but how can you expect a prospect to persuade his or her management to take a chance on a lesser-known firm like yours if your website is outdated or underutilized? Your firm may not be large, but your website and online presence can rival that of much larger firms without breaking the bank. A website that offers solid evidence of your legal prowess can make the difference between winning a new client or losing yet another prospect to a big firm.
There are many misconceptions about online marketing, especially when it comes to SEM and its closely related cousin, SEO (search engine optimization). Many people falsely believe that revamping their website and making an effort to improve its rankings on the search engines will be costly, that the entire enterprise is far too competitive to make a real difference, and that online marketing is a nebulous notion that is hard to quantify or describe in concrete terms. All of these assumptions are false. When executed effectively, online marketing does not need to be expensive in relation to the return it can bring, and results can be tracked. As for competition, the only sure way to lose is not to enter the ring at all!
The most important thing to remember about your firm’s website is that it needs relevant, persuasive and current content, including descriptions of practice areas (with the unique value your firm brings to its clients), news releases, representative successes, attorney bios and more. Too, you need to keep in mind that your website – and indeed any online platform – is a living entity. It needs to be kept up-to-date or it will inevitably wither and die. The process of creating this content can begin immediately and the services of a marketing specialist are not necessarily required, meaning that a basic online presence is accessible to everyone, regardless of marketing budget.
Another consideration for those attorneys banking entirely on referrals and neglecting their web presence is this: someone who has been referred to you has also been referred to others. In order to emerge from the crowd of competitors as the clear choice for this prospective client, your firm requires a website with clear, concise content. An SEM professional can help drive traffic to your site, but you’re going to need an outstanding site to convert visitors to clients you actually want a substantial return on your investment. My advice to lawyers with lackluster websites who may be planning a complete online revamp is not to delay content creation until the entire site has been redesigned. Instead, create the content now and get it up there as soon as possible. Showcase your firm’s expertise and successes; demonstrate your value as an attorney immediately. You never know what opportunities you may be missing out on if your website is not engaging or informative.
Many of your prospects are consulting the Internet before they ask for professional referrals. Thousands of searches for lawyers occur on search engines daily. Of course, many of those leads may be unqualified, but still more will be qualified, and may never have found your firm without the aid of strong content and savvy SEM. For any attorneys looking to develop and diversify their client base and indeed reinforce their standing as a player within the broader legal community, the value of a compelling online presence cannot be overestimated.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp. Marketing & Public Relations specializing in working with individual attorneys and their firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/405-7345.